Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Racism And The Brazilian Princess...The Forbidden Dance

Yes...I am writing about a film that features a dance craze and one not starring S Club or Mariah Carey. In all fairness, there is very little of The Forbidden Dance that falls under the category of a film. I like to think of it as falling under the failed early attempts at an early 90's Latin Explosion alongside its rival lambada film, the impressively named Lambada, and "Rico Suave." Better yet, I prefer to look at it the least sexy sequel in the Emmanuelle series and an exploitative take on how very little Americans knew about Brazilians in 1990. I mean, they are all tribal, from the jungle, have a "witch doctor" and a princess, right? Right?

The Forbidden Dance is, was and forever will be proof that the Hollywood system is totally messed up. In a mere four months, this film was written, cast, shot and released in a twisted effort to beat Lambada into the theaters only be released the same day and it shows. Before I get into writing about this classy cinematic achievement, here is a handy checklist of what you should know about this film before subjecting yourself and friends to fits of possible death-inducing laughter.

- All Brazilians, at least those on camera, live in a jungle.
- Brazilians are clearly naive and will dance for money as well as to end the destruction of their land.
- A tanned Sid Haig is a Brazilian Sid Haig.
- "Father sent me to the missionaries to learn about the white man."
- This film might have been a possible influence on Crash.
- Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

Joa, shall we begin? 

Let us begin...

While practicing for a very kinky Soul Train line, Nisa, her father, the resident shaman, Joa, and the other villagers are interrupted by the man, his trucks and their documented proof that his rich American company owns this undisclosed portion of Brazilian rainforest where this tribe still 1990 (aka the time before the age of government, laws, technology, Sepultura and the 20th Century). Instead of going the easier route and challenging them to a dance-off, instead Nisa tells her crew to run off and hide in the forest while the man or as he is known in this film, Benjamin Maxwell, and his crew runs over their huts and a plant. Big Business: 1, Unexplained Brazilian Tribe: 0 and now for the L.A. round of competition.

Although, Nisa learned from the missionaries "about the white man" as she stated earlier, they also forgot to tell her that you can not reason with American corporations, especially those who now own your land. Also, they neglected to tell her when a six-foot-plus tall shaman uses magic to run interference so that you can sneak upstairs to reason with the head of the corporation that bought your land and, subsequently, help you escape that it, will 100 percent of the time end in an arrest.  

Thankfully, this and a simple question of her having "papers" leads her toward a job working for a rich family consisting of two racist parents and a son, Jason, who loves the night life and all of its lame music, lamer dancing and even lamer racist people than the ones who conceived him as they have neither the time nor interest in learning the difference between Mexican and Brazilian racial slurs (not really sure what constitutes a Brazilian slur but I am pretty certain none of them are the ones used for Nisa). While spying on Nisa gyrating with bedsheets and a curtain, Jason learns that his girlfriend is unavailable to go out dancing for the 30th time this week and he drags Nisa out with him only to find out that his parents and his trust fund buddies do no approve of him fraternizing with the help and, more to the point, someone devoid of all of their horrible Caucasian stereotypes such as bad dancing, not dancing to Latin rhythms and rich person influenced racism.

Still with me? If so, enjoy this brief intermission. Let it be noted, that this intermission only works on men and lesbians named Jason and who happen to be rich peeping toms with a young Brazilian princess living with you disguised as a maid. Well, I guess you could just be a pervert as well if that helps. 

During this point, Nisa teaches Jason about...wait for it...the forbidden dance (just like the title) while all of the other people, non-Latin, stare before making fools of themselves attempting to perform...the forbidden dance (I said it again). High on rebellion, Jason and Nisa return to his place only to be told he can not date the help and how her kind should not wear his or his mom's dresses. Nisa flees to the street and finds refuge in a brothel because that is exactly what people do when they wish to take down corporations and find themselves  lost in a Hollywood filled with junkies, prostitutes and sex shops so classy that they spell it with an "pe" on the end. 

As Nisa starts shaking it for cash and the unwanted, sleazy advances of businessmen, Jason's moronic friends stumble into the club. The blonde, leather jacket idiot begins to sexually harass her only to be met with a knee to the balls and a pretty sweet consolation prize of more women. Jason soon finds out about Nisa's new occupation from his racist girlfriend and goes to the club determined to save her and the dance that is so forbidden so they can win the dance competition and hang out with Kid Creole and the Coconuts...yes, the actual Kid Creole and the Coconuts appear in the film via mob threats, the script was so funny that they could not resist or just boredom. Needless to say, it is not Jason who saves Nisa (as he gets beaten easily) but Joa returns to say that he is a magic man, mama, and uses Uri Gellar trickery and powder to easily scare away the club owner and his stable of ladies with moderate dancing ability

Before we can get to Kid Creole and the Coconuts, two things must happen in any film of this nature. The young budding couple (or dance partners with benefits) must meet more obstacles such as racism, a sprained ankle, Jason's dance moves, Nisa's kidnapping, acceptance from Jason's lame friends and Joa air bongoing and getting busy with the woman who found Nisa earlier. I bet she did not ask him if he had papers. Condoms, yes, but definitely not papers. Meanwhile, Nisa decides it is a good time to teach Jason the lambada horizontally and possibly finds out that you can tell a lot of a guy in bed from his dance moves which, for Jason, does not offer much promise.

Not surprisingly, Nisa and Jason win the competition and get to dance for Kid Creole and the Coconuts (yes, that Kid Creole and the Coconuts, so stop asking) on television. Not only do they dance for him, Nisa explains to the performers and audience that her land is on the verge of being destroyed by a huge corporation. She also casually mentions that she is a princess and that her father is the king of their tribe in 1990. Although, the missonaries taught her about the white man, they neglected to mention modesty and how rude it is to brag about such things. You never saw Jason bragging about all the racist people he knows. 

For a film rooted in early 90's environmental concerns, The Forbidden Dance is the rare occasion in which I am all for the Brazilian rainforest being leveled by big corporate American business types if it meant this film would have never existed. Then again, if Americans did not become obsessed with the lambada in the early 90's, this film would have also never existed. Then again, where was Blanka to electrocute the land developers and growl? While I appreciate the message of the film (save the rainforest, stop hanging out with racists, Laura Herring can make any film more enjoyable (ie. The Punisher and the already enjoyable Mullholland Drive)), it feels more like those anti-smoking Truth ads of the last few years, very heavy handed and unintentionally humorous and feeling like this afterward.

It is that same thought process that has led to this film having so many awkward Zoolander-esque stares.

except for Nisa's father who is discovering American breasts for the first time.

The 90's were the beginning of a new age of politically correctness, global awareness as well as late night viewings of Studs and "doing the Urkel." Since no one informed the writers of this film about most of these things, The Forbidden Dance is proof that the real danger of the Brazilian rainforest was not global warming or land development. It was this film's depiction of Brazilians. On that note, let us have a final reflection of the film's views toward Brazilians.


  1. dude if a girl like Nisa is dancing in that way in a room in the night, alone and dressed like that, I was in the door peeping her, men there's no questions about the next move...hail to the king baby!!!

  2. Haha. Agreed. I would walk in there like Jason Biggs in American Pie and say "looks like you could use a hand."